THE INNER SOLUTION
Episode 2: The Buddha taught that "your worst enemy cannot hurt you as much as your mind unguarded." In this episode, we'll explore how it is that your mind can work against you, and more importantly, how you can win it over to your side making it our greatest ally for creating a life of happiness, clarity, and ease.
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Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your mind unguarded.
Welcome to Real Yoga, a podcast dedicated to helping you use yoga's ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning right here, right now. I'm your host Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
These words are attributed to the Buddha in a series of discourses called the Anguttara Nikaya For many there, well, to say the least, thought provoking, because let's face it, most of us have been raised to think of our minds as our greatest asset. But the mind can also be our worst enemy, an enemy that can turn a world of blessings into a seemingly endless bog of curses and difficulties and obstacles. It's this more dangerous side of the mind that I would like to explore today, and I thought we'd do that through three investigations.
Investigation number one involves a series of questions that at first may seem a little silly or at the very least obvious, but nevertheless, here it goes. Would you rather be happy or sad? Would you rather be doubtful or confident? And would you rather be anxious or calm.
And yes, I warned you these were going to be a bit obvious, so if you're like most people, the answers have come back happy, confident, and calm, which brings us to our second investigation.
If it's true that we really would prefer to be happy, confident, and calm and of course I could go on and on with a series of other so-called positive emotions, then it only makes sense to ask "Why don't you feel that way more of the time?"
I mean, if you're like most people on the planet, you spend nearly all of your time, energy and resources trying to be happy, confident, and calm again together with any number of other positive feelings, and you do it day in and day out.
Sure, it may look like you're trying to get a promotion or find the perfect partner or improve your health or buy a new car or go on vacation or save the whales. I could go on and on, but if we're honest, no matter which of these you may be chasing, what you really want is to feel happy and confident and calm or at the very least feel less sadness, less doubt, and less anxiety.
This illuminates the first of several crucial missteps that most of us make and that is not recognizing that what you think you want is only a means to what you really want. While we believe the promotion, the partner, the health, the car, the vacation, the pod of saved whales is what we want. If we get them and they don't make us happy, they're worthless to us because these things are really devices, devices that we use to, well we could say it in two ways, make us happy or more accurately that we use to drive out troubling feelings like sadness, doubt, and anxiety. And this is a critical understanding.
When you say you want to be happy, what you really want is relief from being sad. And when you say you want to be confident, what you really want is relief from being doubtful. And when you say you want to be calm and at ease, what you really want is relief from being anxious. So back to the question, why don't we feel happy, confident, and calm more of the time? Quite simply we're solving the wrong problem.
Instead of attempting to change how we feel, we thrown ourselves headlong into a battle to change our circumstances to change how we feel. Our real problem is inside and we're focused outside.
And while this rather circuitous or roundabout strategy oftentimes works just as often, it backfires because the battle to change our circumstances often leaves us feeling worse than when we began.
We've established that what we really want is to be free from troubling feelings, feelings like sadness and doubt and anxiety. And as a side note, as many of you know, I am known to often say, don't take my word on it, but examine this truth in your own life.
End of side note.
So this leaves us standing now squarely in front of our third and arguably most important investigation and it's this. Where in the heck are these disturbing feelings coming from?
Where is the feeling of impatience coming from? Where's the feeling of worry coming from? Where is that feeling of anger coming from? And spoiler alert, they're not coming from where your mind would have you believe.
The impatience doesn't come from the slow poke driver. The worry doesn't come from the downturn in the economy and the anger...well, the anger doesn't come from the teenager who threw the McDonald's wrapper in your driveway.
The fact is that all of these troubling feelings come from you. More specifically, from your brain and your nervous system. Here's what most of us don't realize--Every moment of every day your brain and nervous system are using the raw materials of your circumstances to manufacture feelings like sadness, anxiety, fear, frustration, impatience, and on and on.
And to be clear, your brain and nervous system also use those same raw materials to sometimes manufacture happiness and joy and calm and clarity and ease as well. But the key takeaway here is that, while, it may seem like your feelings are coming from your circumstances. The impatience from the slow poke, the worry from the economy and the anger from the teenager, they are not. And I can prove it.
You see, if these feelings were built into the circumstances, these circumstances would make us feel the same way every time. And the same would be true for every person. But that's not the case. The traffic doesn't always awaken our ire in the same way.
Have you ever asked yourself why on some days a hike in nature is a soothing experience and on other days, the same hike on the same trail with the same people is irritating? Or why a day at the beach is a glorious escape and anon other days you can't wait to get home?
Of course, it's because these feelings are manufactured in your brain and your brain is a mercurial entity. Your circumstances, the hike, the day at the beach, the downturn in the economy, the McDonald's wrapper in your driveway are just the raw materials the brain uses to create the feelings.
Now, I very specifically used that term raw materials because that's precisely what your life experiences are—raw materials for your brain, and it's important to note here that a raw material can be used to create anything. That's why it's called a raw material.
A hunk of steel is a raw material that can be used to create an assault rifle and that very same hunk of steel could be used to create a plow to grow crops and feed people. This all points to a need to get to the root cause of the troubling feelings that we experience, which is, as you've probably guessed by now, suggested to be the manufacturing process that lives in your brain and your nervous system. Addressing that, well, this is called solving the right problem. Solving the inside problem.
It's no surprise that we find ourselves in this rather confused situation with millions of us living lives of unnecessary struggle and angst and worse. I mean, think about it. Conventional wisdom teaches us to rely on the skills and knowledge and leverage we need to solve the outside problem. We prepare our children and in fact we ourselves as children were prepared for the world by helping us to have the right skills and get the right grades so we can get in the right college and meet the right people and then get the right job and make enough money and find the right partner. And so it goes.
And if we get all of these right, if we get the outside right, the theory goes, hopefully the inside will come along. And here is the fatal flaw.
The fact is there are millions and millions on this planet who have the right skills and got the right grades and got into the right schools and met the right people and got the right job and made enough money and found the right partner who are absolutely miserable.
But just so we're clear, I am making no indictment against education or building a career or seeking a loving relationship or any of the myriad things that make a good life, but I am arguing for a more balanced approach. An approach in which we teach our children and of course ourselves, the skills they need for solving the inside problem directly. Because when you can do that first, not only is your entire experience of your life lifted, but you're even better poised to more effectively and joyfully solve the outside problem even when the outside doesn't cooperate.
What if you stopped taking care of your body? You stopped cutting your hair, you stopped brushing your teeth, you stopped washing, you stopped exercising and you ate a random diet of marginally healthy food? How do you think you would feel?
Another obvious question, because we've all learned that our physical fitness is something that doesn't just happen. It's something we need to work at every day and it's important. We know we need to invest in our physical selves or we'll pay the price and every part of our lives will suffer and it's here I'd like to ask what about our mental fitness? Surely our minds and nervous systems, the parts of us that run every other part are as deserving and in need of this kind of daily care.
But for some reason we just haven't been taught to care for our mental welfare in the same way that we do our physical welfare.
And I would argue that this is critically important for us all because this is not just a matter of a bit of inner turmoil or troubling emotions that depress our wellbeing. The fact is that this lack of attention to our mental fitness combined with the immense pressures and stresses that our modern world places on us—demands that are greater today than at any time in history.
This is at the heart of incalculable, unnecessary suffering from mass shootings to addiction to bullying. These are behaviors that are too often driven by a desperate attempt to calm an inner storm of untenable thoughts, emotions, and feelings. I mean, think about it.
People who are steeped in the experience of inner peace don't shoot up schools. They don't seek to medicate themselves against a life that feels unbearable and they don't take their frustrations out on those around them. The truth is that some of our society's most dire problems are not problems at all, they're symptoms, symptoms of a crisis that lives within us.
But it's not all bad news. In fact, far from it. Because the opportunity to begin to care for our mental and emotional selves, it starts now and as we've seen, this is the one thing that can change everything.
Simple things like meditation, mindfulness practices, gratitude, journaling, yoga, and of course some deliberate pulling of a few mental weeds, replacing those sabotaging thoughts, limiting beliefs and negative mental habits that we all have with new thoughts of hope and possibility. When we begin to nourish and strengthen our ability to manage our internal worlds, we create an ability to live in more joy with more ease and most importantly, we become a shining example to those around us, including our children. And with that, the world can be born anew.
I'll leave you today with an invitation to investigate the truth or fallacy of what has been suggested here. Attempt to recognize the true source of your frustrations, your worries, your feelings of lack or loneliness, and begin to understand how your mind unguarded can harm you more than your worst enemy.
Thanks so much for listening. If you found something here that was helpful to you, please subscribe and if you know someone else who could benefit from the exploration of these teachings, let them know about the podcast. Lastly, I'd love to hear from you, so if you have questions or suggestions, head on over to my website at ericwal.com and drop me a note. Again, thanks so much. I'm grateful for you and I'll see you in the next episode.